Two people remained in hospital last night after air turbulence tossed passengers and crew around a Hong Kong-bound jet yesterday, injuring 20.
Witnesses told of passengers being thrown out of their seats and hitting the ceiling and overhead lockers of the South African Airways Airbus after it encountered what the airline termed "severe turbulence" over Malaysia.
David Mkumbuje, who was travelling alone on a business trip to Guangzhou, said the rough patch lasted several minutes.
"It was like the end of the world," he said, adding that he had bumped and scratched his head.
Flight SA286 was on its way from Johannesburg in South Africa with 165 passengers on board when it struck the turbulence at about 8.30am.
South African Airways said 17 passengers and three crew members were injured. Two passengers were initially listed as seriously hurt, with six others also requiring hospital treatment. The two still in hospital were last night in a stable condition.
Brian Heuer, who was on the flight with his wife, said many passengers were asleep when the plane hit the turbulence. "Most of the injured hit their heads on the roof of the cabin," he said.
Another passenger said most of the injured had been sitting at the rear of the plane.
"A lot of passengers were scared, but … the crew had it under control and the landing was very good," she said.
A Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department spokeswoman said the plane hit "severe turbulence" about four hours out of Hong Kong.
"The pilot radioed our control tower saying it was continuing its journey to Hong Kong rather than diverting into another city and requested medical assistance upon landing," she said.
The flight landed shortly before 12.30pm at Chek Lap Kok where 14 ambulances were waiting to take the injured to hospital.
Paramedics assessed the conditions of the eight injured men and 12 women on the airport apron before transporting them to North Lantau Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital in Kwai Chung and Yan Chai Hospital in Tsuen Wan.
The injured were aged 21 to 63, according to police.
The Civil Aviation Department said it would assist an investigation into the incident, which would be spearheaded by Malaysian authorities.
South African Airways operates daily passenger flights between Johannesburg and Hong Kong, using A340-600 aircraft.
The aircraft's interior panels were damaged, the airline said.